Wood pellet operations underway at Port of Baton Rouge _lowres

Photo provided by the Port of Greater Baton Rouge -- Wood pellets flow into a Drax Group plc facility at the Port of Greater Baton Rouge. Wood pellets being shipped overseas for use as a fuel source for power plants is expected to add to a growing forestry sector in Louisiana's agriculture economy.

Louisiana agriculture contributed $12.7 billion to the state’s economy in 2014, a gain of 7.6 percent, or $900 million, over 2013.

“For the third year in a row, Louisiana farmers had record-breaking values for many of their commodities,” LSU Agricultural Center economist John Westra said.

AgCenter records also show agriculture’s contributions to the state’s economy have grown for five consecutive years — from $9.9 billion in 2010 through last year’s record-breaking total.

While $12.7 billion is now the high-water mark for Louisiana agriculture, it would have been a small portion of the state’s 2013 gross domestic product of $222 billion, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The state’s 2014 gross domestic product won’t be reported by BEA until this summer.

The 2014 Ag Summary from the LSU AgCenter, released online Monday, is a compilation of the numbers for more than 200 agricultural commodities grown across Louisiana.

The largest contributors to the 2014 increase were forestry, beef and soybeans.

Forestry in Louisiana showed a significant increase in value of 34 percent over 2013, Westra said.

“The forest sector did very well,” he said. The total value of $3.86 billion in 2014 was an increase of $981 million over the previous year.

Market demand, led by housing starts, contributed to the increase in forest product values, he said.

Westra said Louisiana forestry’s big bump in 2014 was the result of a nationwide increase of 1 million in new housing starts, which demanded more saw logs. A boost in pulp wood demand also added to forestry’s growing numbers.

Nationwide, housing starts should reach 1 million again this year, and pulp wood demand should grow stronger in Louisiana because of several plants’ production of wood fuel pellets, Westra added.

Westra said the Drax Group’s pellet export facility at the Port of Greater Baton Rouge should begin moving several plants’ pellets to European markets this year.

Another agricultural sector that showed improvement last year was the cattle and calf business, which grew by $231 million to $895 million in 2014 — an increase of 35 percent.

Strong prices were bolstered by the lingering effects of drought in the Plains and West that held down cattle production in those areas while consumer demand remained strong, Westra said.

“Soybeans also did well,” Westra said. Value increased by $252 million, or 28 percent, to $1.16 billion in 2014.

Strong prices and record yields, combined with a production increase from 1.1 million acres to 1.4 million acres, contributed to that uptick, he said.

Average soybean yield increased from 49 bushels per acre to 57 bushels per acre — a record per acre yield for the state and the nation’s highest per acre yield in 2014.

Louisiana growers planted more acres with soybeans than any other cultivated crop.

Production of feed grains — corn, oats and grain sorghum — was down significantly, and value fell by 57 percent to $396 million from $930 million in 2013.

“Acres and total value of feed grains were down primarily because prices were down early and producers switched from feed grains to soybeans, which didn’t see prices fall as significantly,” Westra said.

Corn went from 643,000 acres in 2013 to 395,000 acres in 2014, but yields were high. Acreage for grain sorghum and oats didn’t change much.

“The drop in acres reflects a drop in prices,” Westra said. “Those acres went to soybeans.”

The value of rice production was relatively flat, he said. Rice value dropped by $2.7 million to $656 million. Acres were up from 411,000 to 449,000, and yields were up at an average of 7,500 pounds per acre.

“Prices were down, and production was up, so total value remained about the same,” Westra said.

Growers planted more cotton — 162,000 acres, up 40,000 acres. Production value was up about 7 percent, he said.

Louisiana sweet potatoes gained value as a function of processed products. Frozen sweet potato products have replaced canneries as a major market in Louisiana.

“2014 saw a larger crop and higher prices,” Westra said. “Acreage increased by 1,200 acres, and farm income increased by 36 percent.”

The larger sweet potato crop went both for processing and to an increasing fresh market.

Total value increased by $31 million to $117 million. “Better prices encouraged producers to increase acreage,” Westra said.

Sugar cane value slipped about 3 percent, or $24 million, to $747 million total, Westra said. Acreage was down about 5 percent, from 439,000 acres to 412,000 acres.

The plant nursery sector grew 7.8 percent, mostly because of increased demand as the housing sector grew and landscapes were replanted following losses from an unusually cold winter.

The total value of plant commodities, including hay, fruit crops and vegetables, totaled $8.1 billion in 2014.

“Poultry is the biggest livestock enterprise in the state,” Westra said. But the value was down 14.5 percent, or $291 million, to $1.7 billion in 2014.

Egg income was down less than 5 percent, while broiler production dropped from 912 million pounds to 872 million pounds, and gross farm value slipped from $927 million to $776 million.

All animal commodities, including dairy, horses and other animals, totaled $3.3 billion in 2014. Fisheries and wildlife, including aquaculture and marine fisheries, contributed $1.3 billion to the state’s economy.

“Livestock income is driven by the number of animals and feed costs,” Westra said. Throughout the country, animal numbers have been falling, and feed costs have been rising.